With the number four jersey draped over a chair on sideline, Western Rams coach Kurt Hancock said his side's attitude in the face of adversity stood out in their round one win over the Illawarra South Coast Dragons.
The squad clinched a 24-10 victory at Cowra's Sid Kallas Oval on Sunday to kick off their 2021 Laurie Daley Cup campaign.
And while coming away with the W was important, Hancock said he was even prouder of the way his side has handled the sudden passing of teammate Mason Pollack.
"The last couple of weeks has been absolutely horrible for some of these kids so for them to go out there and do what they've done today, you take your hat off them," he said.
"I'm a bit in debt to them today because obviously I had a pretty close relationship with Mason and the family.
"It's been unreal how they have handled the last two weeks."
It was a fast start for the Rams, with halfback Cooper Egan crossing the stripe in the third minute and a Braye Porter conversion giving the boys in green a 6-0 lead.
Parkes Spacemen's Finnley Neilsen soon added himself to the scorers list, taking advantage of a ball dropped cold on the Dragons try line to take the score to 12-0 at drinks in the first half.
Dubbo CYMS product Riley Wake then bagged himself a four pointer to take the score to 18-0 at the half.
Despite the uneven scoreline, the Dragons weren't going down without a fight, with Liam Arnold putting the Red V on the scoreboard in the 44th minute of the contest.
The Dubbo boys continued to impress, with Zac Williams all but securing the win for the Rams, however a late try to the Dragon's James McClelland saw the final score 24-10.
Hancock praised his side's defense despite the hot conditions on the day.
"I think both teams found it a bit tough in the end with a few errors," he said.
"All in all, the attitude was awesome. I thought, especially at the back end of that first half when we had to get through a mile of defence and they had a fair bit of ball, they kept turning them away and I think that just showed the mindset and the attitude the boys were in.
"They just played well as a team and that's what we talk about, our big logo is if you want individual success, you get it through your team success."
Dragons coach Peter Hooper said his side will look to improve ahead of next week's clash with the Macarthur Wests Tigers.
"We prepared well, probably just didn't execute in the early stages and turned over too much ball," he said
"[We] gave them too much field position to start off with and you probably can't do that against a quality side like the Rams.
"Every time we looked to get some momentum, it just didn't happen for us today. That's half us and hats off to the Rams, they made a difficult game for us."
The Rams will travel to Leeton next week to face off against the Bulls.
WESTERN RAMS 24 (Cooper Egan, Finnley Neilsen, Riley Wake, Zac Williams. Conversions: Braye Porter 4/4) def ILLAWARRA SOUTH COAST DRAGONS 10 (Liam Arnold, James McClelland. Conversions: Ryan Hodgson 1/2)
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